It was dark out and we got lost on the way to see our bike dealer outside of Ho Chi Minh City. It was perfect timing for our Vietnam vet friend's bike to break down. In a torrential downpour of rain. With all our phones dead. In the middle of nowhere.
With 300 vulnerable dollars in my pocket, we pushed the bike a good mile or so to an underpass. We got it going, finally, and trudged on.
At our dealer's garage, we got the rundown on the motorcycles for sale. An exchange of currency and registration papers and we were on the road again, back to the city like a white-person caravan, getting some interesting looks on the way. Someone said learning to ride a four-speed manual motorbike in the streets of Saigon was baptism by fire. It was.
The next day we tied our bags to the back seat and left for the beach town of Mui Ne with a lone map and pointer finger as our guide.
We stayed at a hotel where the owner's son sat next to me, watching while I wrote down my thoughts in English. Rather than try and talk without success, I decided to just sit there in silence and enjoy his company. There's a lot of that here. Words are not always necessary.
From Mui Ne we rode to Dalat. Rather, we were supposed to ride to Dalat but got lost about a dozen times and ended up in a small mountain-top village. A storeowner offered for us to stay the rainy night in his shop. By offered I mean he mimed the action for sleep and pointed to his dirt floor.
So there we sat, the three of us exchanging little gifts from our possessions and devouring a Vietnamese dictionary in an attempt to communicate. That little book was the best $5 I've ever spent.
Being lost is an awful, scary yet exciting feeling. You look around and see nothing known, with no sense of direction, no sense of home, no sense of urgency, no potential for instant familiarity, but at the same time see unlimited potential to connect with the unfamiliar.
The scene from my next day's ride: shirt off, sun out, mid misty morning. Riding along the coast and feeling the ocean breeze, learning back against my bag on my bike, hearing the waves crash louder than my engine, smelling the salt water ... nothing could have been more perfect.
It's hard to comprehend that I was there, in a foreign country. It didn't seem so foreign. It's the same thing as here -- dirt roads, clouds, rain, smiles, conversations, monetary exchanges, the need to get somewhere, a hand shake, the I-don't-know shrug, it's all the same. It's the same everywhere. Only the shapes and colors that we sew onto a cloth rectangle are different. Such a shame that we rarely recognize the universal nature of the human experience.
I wrote in my journal:
"I don't know what day it is. I don't know the time. I've worn my same shirt six days in a row. My feet have a tan that looks like my sandals. I sleep an average of five hours every night and it feels ... great. I don't know what I'm looking for. In the bathroom stall someone wrote on the wall, 'In search of something, I traveled the world only to come home and find what I was looking for.'
"I hope that guy found it."
Myles Wallingford is a junior at CU majoring in media. You can follow his travel adventures through Southeast Asia every Tuesday in March in the Colorado Daily.